Car Scam Guy Vs. Logical Autistic Brain

                There are certain characteristics which I possess which, although I might like to think they are inherent to me, are in reality inherent to my autism.  They are attributes which I use to make up for my deficits in other areas. But until recently, I never realized how my deficits could also be attributes.  I never realized that meltdowns could be an advantage.  I never realized that sometimes, being weird and not following social norms could not just be a negative – they can be a positive, too.

                Life is weird.  Here’s what happened.

                I went grocery shopping.  I have yet to visit a Trader Joe’s with an adequate parking lot and this one is no exception, but I like their stores and there are certain products there, like olive oil, that I would never dream of buying anywhere else.  I very carefully slid my car into a spot, noting that the car to the left of me had parked an inch or two over the yellow line, intruding on my space.  I mentally grumbled about stupid parkers and opened my door very carefully.  I sucked in my stomach and reached awkwardly to get my purse, very careful to not touch the other car.  I can recall this because I have an autistic memory and that memory is really good.

                Fifteen or twenty minutes later, I was done with my errands and returned to my car.  However, this time, a man stood between my car and the car to the left. 

                “You damaged my car!”  he said. 

                “No, I didn’t.”  I replied. 

                “Yes, you did!”

                I peered closely to where he was pointing.  I saw nothing, not a scratch or a dent or a pockmark.  I recalled getting out of the car and how careful I was.  I began to get very, very confused, and meanwhile, Car Guy was raising his voice and saying how he needed my information, how his car cost X amount, how it was freshly painted that day, it was brand new, just picked up, I owed him money, I owed him this and that.  I began to panic.  I thought about points on my license and the $500 deductible I have which I had no way of paying and my insurance going up.  I thought about going to court and maybe jail. 

                My autistic brain and soul roared loudly in the face of this injustice.  I knew I had not hit his car.  Why did he keep saying I had?  In my logical, orderly world, people do not accuse others of doing things that they did not do.  But maybe I just wasn’t seeing the dent he swore was there.  I knew I was clumsy, maybe I had damaged his car. 

                In the face of his anger, I was terrified.  What did he want from me?  I didn’t know and I couldn’t figure it out.  Car Guy was not following any social script that I had ever learned.  So I did what most white people do when confronted with such a situation: I called 911.  I retreated to the store and retrieved the manager, who came outside and stood with me as we waited. 

                I should mention here that Car Guy was black.  I’m not sure of any other characteristics except that he was male and black, and from the moment that I dialed for the police I was absolutely positive that I had signed his death warrant.  Because if I have learned anything from the Black Lives Matter movement, it is that cops kill black people for no reason, even in small, ultra- liberal cities such as the one I live in.

                The Trader Joe’s employees were very nice.  They waited with me for the few minutes until the cops arrived.  By this time I was in full meltdown mode.  I was crying hard, flapping, and biting myself because I did not understand why I was being accused of doing something that I was 100% positive I did not do.  Did you go to jail for dinging a car?  Would the police shoot first and ask later?  How could I afford to replace his brand new car anyway?

                The police, as it turned out, drew no weapons.  They did repeatedly ask me if I needed to go to the hospital and I said no, I had high-functioning autism* and I was having a meltdown, not a heart attack.  I managed to retrieve my insurance information and license, and Car Guy and I exchanged information.  The cop peered at Car Guy’s door.  The cop admitted that there could possibly be some sort of mark there, and encouraged me to take a picture or two.  I did.  I called a church friend who lived nearby and she was on her way over, as I knew there was no way I could deal with this situation by myself.  I was still crying hard and beginning to have trouble breathing.

                “I didn’t do it!”  I kept saying.  Because I didn’t.

                Car Guy was clearly sick of this whole thing.  He took the piece of paper with my information on it, tore it up with the effect of tearing up a death sentence, and said, “I can’t stand how you’re crying.  You’re crying too much.  I’ll forget it, okay?”

                A few minute later, he had gotten in his car and gone, and my friend arrived.  The cops asked again if I wanted to go to the hospital.  Again I said no.  The cop explained very calmly that nothing was going to happen now, it was all over, and he hinted at something I did not understand.  He said that there was no way I could have hit his car where he said I did with my car door, because the angles did not match up.

                The cops left.  It was starting to rain.  I sat in my friend’s car and cried.  What had I done wrong?  Why was I accused of doing something I had not done?

                It was then that my friend explained to me what the police had been hinting at.  It was, apparently, a known scam.  Someone parks over the line, then accuses the stranger of damaging their car.  Since most insurances have high deductibles, Car Scam Guy assumes that the person will just want to get home and will offer the guy cash to make the problem go away.  Car Scam Guy wasn’t after putting me in jail.  He didn’t want insurance information or to know my name or where I lived.  He wanted an easy $20 or $50.  He thought that he could easily intimidate a plain-looking woman who was probably eager to get home at the end of the day.

                Of course, Car Scam Guy had no way of knowing that I was autistic.  He had no way of knowing that my brain and my body would go haywire at being accused of a crime that I did not commit.  He didn’t know that with my memory I could recall getting out of my car, and that my logic demands evidence and proof of wrongdoing.  He also didn’t expect my meltdown to be as severe as it was or as long.  I called for help, and help came, because I knew that I could not deal with the situation on my own.  When he saw that I clearly had advocates on my side, like my friend and the Trader Joe’s employees, he backed down. 

                I threw him off his script.  He knew that he had no evidence, that he would lose in court, in insurance, in whatever.  He knew this – but I didn’t.  I only knew that I was terrified and certain that I had done no wrong. 

                My friend said that in general, I should not call the police on black people, because it can be dangerous.  But this situation was different.  Car Guy was directly confronting me.  He was unfairly asserting that I had committed a crime (I actually don’t know if scratching someone’s car is a crime.  In my mind it is.) I had few resources at my disposal, and was losing my ability to communicate clearly.  Under the circumstances, I did the okay thing.  Under the circumstances, it all worked out okay. There is no Peace 911.  There is only an Emergency 911. 

                In the end, when the Logical, Emotional Autistic met the Scammer, the Scammer lost, not due to lack of effort on his part, but because I did not know the standard script for dealing with this type of situation.  My meltdown, something of which I have always been terribly ashamed of, ended up working in my favor because Car Guy did not expect me to be so emotional or to keep on being so emotional.  He had no idea that he had rocked my foundation of justice and goodwill in other people.  He just knew that I was weird, I was not giving him what he wanted, and I had people on my side.  So he fled, probably the best thing he could have done.

                Thinking it over, his story from the beginning did not make sense.  It had been pouring, vomiting even, buckets of rain for most of the day.  Who gets their car painted on such a day?  And who gets their car painted on the day they pick it up from the dealer?  And the price he was quoting me – $27,000 – seemed rather low for a brand new car.  My used car was over half that.  Logically, he didn’t make sense.  Logically, I should have known it was a scam.  But equally logically, it never occurred to me that it was.

                In the end, my memory, sense of justice and logic, and my meltdown equaled him giving up his scam.  My autistic self, the part of myself that I freely admit I dislike the most, saved the day. I do not know if Car Guy will try the scam again, but I am willing to say that if he does, he might choose his targets more carefully.  I am very, very glad that the incident did not escalate into violence, but I still have no idea what to do the next time I have a public crisis with a person of color.

                I cannot imagine living without autism, because it is in every cell of my body and brain and it makes me who I am.  Until this incident, I thought it made me a lesser, or at the very most an equal, person.  Now, I see that it may indeed mean something more.  It means that I am less resistant to other’s scams, that my logical brain and excellent memory can and will save the day, that even meltdowns have their uses sometimes.

                Now, if you’ll excuse me.  My logical brain may have done some great things, but it still won’t solve the problem of my cleaning my room.

 

*As a rule in my advocacy work I do not use the terms high and low functioning, as I believe that they are largely meaningless and take away from the shared sense of community.  However, I have found that there are 2 groups where I need to make an exception to this rule: when dealing with police and when dealing with doctors.  It makes communication much easier because it ensures that they see me as a competent person having a hard time, and also lets them know that I am my own legal guardian, medical decision maker, etc.

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No one puts their children in a boat/unless the water is safer than the land

 

Despite it being a holiday, my local neighborhood pool was open today.  Because of the holiday, it was very nearly empty.  I was one of just three people in the vast expanse of crystal clear-blue water.  I lay on my back and looked up at the sky, for once empty of the airplanes that usually roar overhead, and I thought about the fact that it’s summer here.  And it must be summer in Syria.  And somewhere in Syria, there must be a swimming pool.  And sometime, somewhere in Syria, some other summer, some other woman must have laid on her back in the water and looked up at the same sky I was looking at.  The same oxygen and hydrogen and nitrogen and whatever else is in air – they made up the air she breathed. 

                Our planet is very nearly a closed system.   Sure, we send people and things up to space, and occasionally asteroids come down, but from my (very, very rudimentary) understanding of ecology and history, I know that the water in my faucet could have been drunk by an ancient homo erectus, somewhere on the African savanna.  I know that the sand I walk on could have been rocks a few eons ago.  That mammoths once roamed places we now name Manitoba, Saskatchewan, China, and Russia.  That the time of the dinosaurs is really just a blink away.

                Three-hundred-something years ago, people formed a country I now call mine, and even before it was formed, the leaders were deciding who had the right to live here, and who didn’t.  The Indigenous people whose language lingers in so many place names, even as most people today don’t know a single Native American Indian, they were the first to be deemed unacceptable.  They were rounded up, herded like cows to the slaughterhouse, killed by diseases that Europeans deliberately infected them with and which they had no immunity to.

                From the beginning, ours has been a nation made up of minorities – Spanish explorers, Chinese railroad workers, Jews fleeing pogroms, Irish fleeing famine, slaves and other people of color brought here against their will.  I think that maybe the founders realized this, and that is why they institutionalized racism just about as fast as they could, so that they could remain on the very top.  You name a group, white cis able bodied Christian men in this country have oppressed said group.  Women, people of color, disabled people, indigenous people, non-Christians, queer people, trans people  – none are truly free or equal to people like my brother and many of my friends are today. 

                This is not to say that my brother or my friends are not good, honest, hardworking people who deserve good things to happen to them.  It is just to say that due to their demographic, they have probably had it easier than anyone who doesn’t fall into a minority category.  It is just to say that it is this demographic currently running the country.  And it is this demographic that is repeating history, when you’d think we’d have learned from, oh, a few world wars and numerous genocides that happened right in front of our eyes in the last hundred years alone.

                Warsan Shire, a Somali-British poet, writes:

“no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbours running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.”

                There are people now fleeing their homes all over the world.  They are not fleeing homes made of camels and tents and desert sand.  They are fleeing modern cities with supermarkets and pharmacies and swimming pools.  They are fleeing the schools where they learned to read and the playground where their baby sat in a swing and laughed.  They are fleeing yards with trees where they once had picnics, surrounded by friends and family.  They most likely have no idea where the majority of those friends and family are now, unless their bones lie in a grave or at the bottom of the sea.

                But the park is a pile of rubble and the school has been closed for lack of teachers and the hospital closed for lack of supplies and there are great craters where the houses of their neighbors once were.  The peach and fig trees which once scented the air are cracked by the fires.  There are bullet holes in the storefronts.  They cannot just pack up and go to their sister’s in New Jersey because New Jersey is also in the midst of a war and the road is impassable, anyway.  A car drive that once took five hours is now as far away as the moon. 

                And since they can’t get to New Jersey – because New Jersey has no doctors, either, no teachers, no food – they decide that they will go then to the moon.  And they get on a boat or a train or a truck and they set off for the moon, and they never dreamed that the moon would refuse them.  After all, the moon has so much space, so much wealth. 

                The people in power right now – they think that the Syrian refugees and Iraqi and Afghani and South Americans who are all clamoring at our door, they think that they want the moon.  But they don’t.  They don’t want the moon.  They just want to live without the perpetual threat of their children being killed by bombs on the way to school.  They want to make plans with their brother about what to do about dinner, not what to do if he is kidnapped.  They want to fill their lungs with air and breathe out and sit under a tree somewhere and eat a peach.

                Do Syrian refugees not deserve peaches?  Do billionaires deserve tax breaks more than a child deserves an education?  If Jesus is truly who they worship, you would not value oil over a human life.  If Jesus was here now, he would welcome all refugees and he would know that Islam is a peaceful religion, and they are all our brethren, not our enemies.

                How can we call ourselves the land of the free when so many are not?  How can we call our people brave when they are not brave enough to reach out a hand to a stranger in need, to say hello, to say welcome?  It is all the same planet.  Country boundaries are arbitrary.  We are all citizens of the world, and it is about damn time that the federal government started acting like it.

The rest of Warsan Shire’s poem, ‘Home’ can be found below. I urge you to read and share it.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled 
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between 
your legs
or the insults are easier 
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you 
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here.

Threenager

The news is depressing as hell.

Disabled people are literally asking politicians to not kill us and the politicians are asking why.

Nobody in my house is as clean as I would like them to be, including me.

My wonderful neighborhood pool has pipe problems and is delayed in its opening, and it is so humid you could cut the air with a knife.

And the entire country may be blown up by north korea, you know, any minute now.

So I slog on.  My back hurts.  My head hurts.  Everything hurts and there’s not much to do about it.

I look for jobs in my field to no avail, and in the meantime, in my part-time job, the world’s most adorable toddler has turned into a part-time demon.

I’m told it’s called being a Threenager.

Here are some verses I wrote about it.  I hope you enjoy.

 

I am a 3. I disagree.

I am a 3. I disagree.

 

I won’t get in my carseat

And then I won’t get out

I won’t ever be quiet

‘til it’s time to scream and shout

 

I’m a threenager, a teenager,

Who’s only 3 feet tall

Climbing tables chairs and railings

I know you’ll catch me if I fall

 

I vow I will stay naked

Until it’s time to take a bath

Then it must be time for snowsuits

And I don’t know why you laugh

 

I am capable and clever

Profound as a philosopher

But I lie on the floor screaming

‘cause I can’t eat the cat’s fur!

 

I’ve got the whole world’s future in the palm of my hand,

I’m trying hard to get it but I just don’t’ understand.

These grownups they just keep me down and keep me confined

They act as if I do not know my very own mind!

 

I’m doing acrobatics while I’m eating at the table

You say ‘please put your toys away’ but I don’t think I’m able

I hear it’s time to wash my hands but I’m too busy playing

I hear it’s time to go to sleep – I don’t know what you’re saying!

 

I kind of know my letters and most of my numbers too

I’m pretty sure my name contains an X, a Y, a Q

And though I may not know everything, it’s certainly more than you…………

Because I’m 3. And I disagree.

 

(note: this is actually a song and above mentioned three year old is in love with it and is now calling herself a threenager. but I can’t write music or explain and I’m pretty sure I borrowed the tune from five or six different places. I encourage you to make up your own tune and sing it to the toddler in your life.)

A Future I Didn’t Know Existed

In my state, it is not uncommon to see small, oval plaques on houses declaring that this house was built in 1790, or 1850, and that so-and-so lived here or did this then.  As I pass these plaques, driving my automatic car with heat and light and listening to a podcast, I sometimes think about how someone once peered out those windows of wavy glass to see horses and dusty roads and flora and fauna long gone from this region, and about the fact that the future I live in now was completely unimaginable to them.  I think of them as living so long ago, but it was really the blink of an eye.  Because just as strange as a car would seem to someone from 1825, so my daily life now includes technology and people that I wouldn’t recognize as a teenager.

When you don’t know something exists, when you don’t know that the possibility of something exists, then it is unimaginable and unattainable.  When you learn of the existence of a community that values you for you, you realize that nothing is impossible at all.

But for a long, long time – I didn’t know this.

You see………..

 

When I was growing up, we had nearby neighbors who were roommates.  At least, that’s what my parents told me.  Rosemary and Linda were roommates, who lived together (presumably in separate bedrooms) and mowed the lawn and gave out Halloween candy and had a friendly, black-and-white dog named Lucy who often escaped to play with our dog as a puppy.  At some point in my early twenties, however, it occurred to me that Rosemary and Linda weren’t roommates at all.

“They’re gay, aren’t they?”  I asked my mother.

“Yes,” she said, but she couldn’t explain exactly why she and my father had decided to make up the roommate story.  They just……thought it would make things…..easier.  To not have to explain.

In middle school, I was introduced to Ms. Nurey, who was openly gay at a time – the mid nineteen-nineties – when that was slowly becoming socially acceptable.  I remember looking at her and thinking that she didn’t teach any differently or look any differently from anybody else, and that confused me.  I wasn’t exactly sure what ‘gay’ was, other than that you didn’t date men.  Nobody explained to me that you could not only date women, you could fall in love with, have relationships and families, with other women.

It never came up.  I didn’t ask.  And since I didn’t ask, nobody answered.

I have a half-dozen cousins a decade or two older than I am.  Between them and a few of my parents friends, I knew what a wedding was: a church hall or a country club, the bride in a white dress, the groom in a dark suit, myself in scratchy taffeta or lace, panicked and hungry and inevitably dissociating the night away.  Nobody ever said to me, ‘you can live together without being married’ or ‘you can be married without having children’ or even, ‘you can marry someone non-white’ – because with one exception, (so remarkable to me as a teenager that I got in trouble for pointing it out) there wasn’t a single person of color at any of those weddings I went to. Nobody ever even said, ‘you don’t have to go to all these stupid weddings that you are incredibly miserable at’.*

Getting married to a white person of the opposite gender was right there in the solid line every single person in my world followed: college, career, a few relationships, a serious one, a wedding, kids.  At some point, you move from the city to the suburbs and buy a house.  These were not just goals; they were literally the only ideas about life that I was exposed to.  Yes, I knew single women, my mother included, but the divorce inevitably happened only after all the aforementioned stuff.

I knew of gay adults, but I didn’t know any myself.  In the same way, I knew of disabled people, I read books and watched television, but the only disabled person I knew was the kid with Down syndrome who I always envied for his ease with social pragmatics.  I certainly didn’t know any disabled adults.  I mean, they must have existed, but where did they live?  In their own, special suburb, maybe?

I’ve been thinking about these things lately because of a picture I saw on facebook of someone I grew up with, at a wedding shower with six other girls I recognized from grade school.  Although I’ve only snapshots to confirm it, most of them appear to have followed the path that our lily-white, wealthy suburban upbringing prepared us for.  I recognize them because they look the same as they did in high school; their brightly-colored, seasonally-appropriate dresses fall at the same length, they are all thin, all wear just the right amount of makeup, no visible tattoos, heels, and stand straight to smile with good teeth at the camera.  With few exceptions, I have rarely seen anyone I grew up with since graduation day.  We spent 12 years together, but at the end of the 12 years, because of my faceblindness, I still didn’t know everyone’s names, in my class of under two hundred kids.

The people that I hang out with today don’t look anything like my high school classmates.  I was at a party yesterday and people talked and ate and played games and told the children to please, don’t climb the bookcases, and within the ten or fourteen people there were at least three genders, multiple ethnicities and languages, skin from blue to black to actual-white-like-they-have-albinism-white, varying ways of being queer, varying sizes of service and seeing eye dogs, varying abilities to think and laugh and understand.  Nobody asked for any accommodation because accommodating strangers is as easy as accommodating friends, which is, as natural as breathing.  I admired someone’s full arm-length tattoo of sea creatures and listened to a mom describe why she and her wife chose a nature preschool for their daughter.  I accepted that skin color of the kid had nothing to do with skin color of the parent.

Every time I’m with these people, I fall in love, over and over again.  Not with the individuals but with the collective whole, the people who gather around and debate the merits of the special Olympics and German pronouns. I have a slightly different set of friends who, though lacking the outward diversity of the first set, are people I feel that I grew to be an adult with, people who I celebrate holidays with, whose kids climb on my lap unasked and uninvited and whisper in my ear, “unicorns and dragons”.  (I threw this kid a baby shower, how is she able to read?) Both groups – though there is definitely overlap between the two – know to ask before hugging or touching someone, know to label allergens, to wait for me as I stutter through sentences when words aren’t coming out.  They get the hilarity and the heartbreak of my daily struggles, and even as they commiserate with me over my latest doctor visit, they laugh with me when I grasp for a metaphor and come up with “the worth of your body!”

I don’t know if this community existed when I graduated from high school.  I do know that had I known it existed, it would have given me a hell of a lot more hope, because even then I knew that I didn’t fit the mold, that I wouldn’t ever be walking down an aisle in a long white dress.  I hated the prom but wasn’t smart enough to fit in with the true geeks and nerds in their AP classes.  In a place where raw intelligence was valued very highly, my learning disabilities were never mentioned in the context of adulthood.  I guess I thought that they would disappear with my (terrible, awful, seriously bad) IEP.

I remember in college being exposed to my first adults with disabilities, and the revelation I felt when I realized, “These are my people.”  Over and over, at community events, non-profit meetings, holiday parties, the adult disability world welcomed me and each time I felt awe as they drew me in.  It was the same way when I found Unitarian Univeralism.  Here were people who didn’t fit the mold: here were people like me.

“I have found my people!” I remember writing somewhere.  My people, as it turned out, didn’t look like my high school classmates.  My people were fat and bone-thin, used wheelchairs, crutches, Braille and seeing eye dogs.  My people were patient beyond belief, had a dark sense of humor, dated half a dozen people at a time, one person at a time, nobody and were content.  My people had biological and adopted and foster kids and cats that got more attention than any and all of the human kids combined.  My people are almost universally liberal, are often atheists, and nearly all of them enjoy a good chocolate cake that I’m more than happy to provide.  My people, in short, are amazing.  And being with them, just by extension, makes me feel amazing too.

A few years ago, I was not invited to my ten-year high school reunion, despite being not that hard to find.  I realized later that because of its location, at a crowded, noisy bar, I wouldn’t have been able to go, anyway.  And besides, what was the point?  What do I have to show for my years since high school? A few useless degrees, a lot of diagnoses, a body that is much bigger, a sense of humor that is darker?  I don’t have a real job, a real career, a real anything.  Those kids, whose middle-school clique I would have killed to be in, probably barely remember me, anyway.

Here’s the thing, though.  I have an autistic memory.  And due to that memory, I can remember every slight, every hurt feeling, every class I failed.  The people I grew up with?  They can’t do that.  They can’t look back at the years and rewind the videotape.  They have sepia-toned glass plates of memory, if they remember me at all.  And just as I am sure they see me in sepia, so I see them now.  They must all have their share of troubles and trials and challenges, but they don’t show up on facebook.  I must remember to have compassion for the people they have grown into now, if I expect anyone to have equal compassion for me.

I just wish……….I just wish that somewhere, somewhere along the road somebody took me aside and said, “you know what? You don’t have to………….” Which brings me to this essay.  Which brings me to now.

The whole ‘it gets better’ trope seems a bit odd to me, because I think that the idea of what ‘better’ is seems to be a narrowly defined concept.  I’m actually much worse off, medically, than I was just a few years ago.  I don’t know if my teenage self would have defined my life now as ‘better’ because I don’t meet any of her defined parameters of success.  Also, I’m still disabled – I never overcame it like they did in all the books – and I’m pretty sure 18 year old me would see that as failure.

So maybe what I’d like to tell my younger self is that life may not get better, but it does get different.  And there are so many, many, many ways to live life that you cannot imagine because you have never been exposed to anything because you’re in high school!  Sure, books taught me the best way to Narnia, but the best way to find a home was never mentioned.  And anyway, life isn’t about places, life isn’t about circumstances, life is about people.  It’s about different people living different lives in different ways.  It’s about jumping and trusting these people will catch you.  It’s about going to the edge, peering over, and seeing someone in the dark abyss handing you a flashlight.

I don’t know anything.  I don’t know if the world will end tomorrow in nuclear war, if healthcare will be gutted and my friends will die, if the seas will rise and drown the sidewalks I slowly, slowly amble down.  I only know that there is more than one road, more than two roads.  There are endless numbers of different roads, and I will choose the one where my people wait.  They are using their forearm crutches decorated in rainbow flags, they are wearing dresses with skulls printed on them, they have beards the color of their cute skirts, they are like nobody I ever imagined growing up.

And best of all?  They are mine.

 

 

*for the record, I still hate weddings.  They are too loud, too crowded, and too confusing.  I spend the entire time hungry because of my food aversions and the cake is inevitably too sweet, over-dry, and much worse than something I could bake myself

The Learning Winter

This has been a hard winter.  It hasn’t been a long winter, time has been passing as it usually does, somehow getting faster with every birthday.  But it has been hard.  I am trying to reframe this in my mind as a Learning Winter, but honestly, some of the things I’ve learned? I could’ve done without.

Most of January was taken up with preparing for my back surgery, having my back surgery, and recovering from my back surgery.  The surgery went well – initially.  They sent me home (well, to my mother’s) on opioids that afternoon, after learning that I come out of anesthesia very violently. (This is apparently a common thing among autistic people. Who knew? More people should know this.) Very early the next morning, I learned I was non-reactive to opioids, and was in so much pain I could not move at all.

In the aftermath of my surgery, I learned that EMTs are really, really nice, even when you need to call them twice within a twenty-four hour period.  I learned – very, very, very important – that I am either non-reactive or allergic to most opioids, or at least, the four they tried on me.  I learned that ERs and hospitals in general are absolutely awful, hellish places for people, but for autistic people in particular.  After my mom finally went home six hours into ER visit number 2 and it was clear I was being admitted, I learned that it is perfectly possible to be lying in an ER room and not get any help for hours.  Also, that if you can move, the nurses will think your pain is better.  (It isn’t, I just really, really, really had to pee and nobody answered when I called for help repeatedly.)

I learned that I need to get that drug interaction into my chart ASAP because when you have a 103 degree fever and are hallucinating that you are on a boat people will not take you seriously when you say, “you know I think I’m allergic to that? It gave me this rash, earlier?”

I learned that there was absolutely no boat ride involved in my hospital stay, but I still hate boats.  (I hated boats before, though.  I knew that.)

I learned that if you can physically show signs of distress, by crying or contorting your face, people will take your pain more seriously.

I learned that I can survive enormous amounts of pain, and that the sooner you can leave the hospital, the better.  Also quite a lot about self-advocacy and care plans and how hospitals work, both little details like food and big details like I’m allergic to this thing, what do you do. I’m trying to impart this knowledge to medical professionals now through various measures, and in the meantime, life goes on, winter goes on, I keep learning.

We had a snowstorm.  It was cold.  I learned not to trust the guy down the street to jump your car for $20 because he might cross the wires and cause over $200 in damage to the steering controls.

I’ve been going to church, even though we have an interim minister I am not too fond of.  And I am learning that churches just don’t function so well under interim ministers.  I am learning to wait for the new minister.  This is a true lesson in patience. With interim ministers, things don’t get done.  Issues aren’t resolved.  Things happen, and I know for a fact that they won’t get dealt with, and there is nothing I can do about it. 

I was sitting in a meeting after church, trying to learn about an important social and political issue.  There were perhaps twenty or twenty five people listening to a speaker, most of whom I knew, many of whom I’ve known for years.  The speaker was very academic and spoke very fast.  I was trying my hardest to follow, and to keep my body still despite the flickering lightbulb above and the uncomfortable chair and I was eighteen days out from my back surgery. I guess two or three questions/comments weren’t acceptable to Kathy, (sitting next to me) because she stuck her arm out, across my chest, in the universal ‘shut up’ gesture and said, ‘shhhhhh!’

Like I was a baby.  Or an errant three year old.  Or a dog.  Shhhhhh.

I lasted maybe another minute or two before I fled and melted in a corridor and I learned, yet again, that PTSD fucking sucks. Because here’s the thing about PTSD: when Kathy ‘shhhhh’d’ me, my brain was in first and second and third grade, having so much to say but having the words come out all wrong.  My body was transported back to a summer camp I attended at thirteen, and hearing someone say, ‘I wish someone would tape Ekie’s mouth shut’.  I was once again the only college freshman actually excited to learn about something and eager to have political discussions in intro to poli sci.  I was sitting in the office of a faculty member at my fellowship last year, hearing her ask me, ‘Could you maybe try counting to thirty before you say anything’.

I learned that as I deal with trauma in my body, my mind is more susceptible to outside trauma.  I learned that when I am having a meltdown I am in absolutely no position to deal with an apology from the person who caused it. The only thing I can do after a meltdown is collapse while all of my past selves come slowly back from green college campuses and stuffy boardrooms and classrooms with cork-board walls, to coalesce into the functioning adult I spend my days pretending that I am.

I learned that I may qualify for a type of government benefit, but due to my learning disabilities I have a very hard time filling out the form. I spent a full hour on hold with the agency until they asked me did I want to take a survey about how satisfied I was with the service I received.  I never received any service. I called back later. I spent another full hour on hold before a computer informs me that the line is too long and I should call back…..later.  I tried calling again, and learned that sometimes if you transpose two numbers of a government phone number you end up on a phone sex line.

All I need is help filling out one form. 

It isn’t fair.

It shouldn’t be this hard.

But I am learning that it is, and it always will be.

And if it is this hard for me, a relatively privileged cis white woman raised upper-middle-class, how much harder is it for people who do not have my privileges?  I did not fear calling the EMTs, even though they were accompanied by police officers.  I had the safety net of my state and federal Medicaid to pay for the operation and all the medications.  I had a relative’s home I could recuperate at.  I have resources to access more healthcare as I continue to deal with the never-ending, energy-sucking, soul-sapping pain.

I acknowledge all these privileges, and I acknowledge that due to my sensory and health issues, I have not gone to a single rally or protest and it is quite likely I never will.  Because even as I deal with my own small issues, at large, the country is in a constant state of implosion.  I honestly have no idea if the United States will even exist as we know it a year from now, or if it will further descend into fascism and anarchy, with the top-level government filled with people who don’t ‘believe’ in such basic facts as global warming, vaccines, or, you know, human rights.

I know so many amazing, kind, beautiful kids who are so full of potential it bursts out of them, and I am growing more convinced by the day that many of them will not live to grow up, or that the world they inhabit will be so drastically different from mine that it will be unrecognizable.  This planet is all we humans have got, and we humans are making it uninhabitable for life.  All life, not just ours.

I am learning to live with this fear and anxiety.  I am learning to take it day by day just as I always have.  I am learning – I continue to learn – to set boundaries, to know and listen to my own body, to seek out people who get it, to do what I can, where I can, when I can.  And if that means that social and political activism needs to take a back seat for a while so I can deal with my body, then I must learn to accept that as well.

It is all I can do.

It is all anyone can do.

We can only keep learning.

Please …..Don’t…… Pray For Me.

I’m having surgery.

The surgeon explained that, if my spine was a long row of jelly donuts, the bone would be the donut part and the discs would be the jelly.  And the jelly on one of my donuts – discs – is pushing out against a nerve and that is causing me pain.  He is actually the first doctor to say, ‘you must be in a lot of pain.’  Yes!  Yes, I am.  So they are going to go in and cut away the extruded part of the disc, and that has a 93% chance of eliminating my pain.

I like those odds.

I like the doctor.

I’ve been dealing with this injury for going on eight months now.  I’ve tried three different medications, chiropractor, massage, physical therapy and acupuncture.  Nothing has significantly helped, although I’ve recently discovered Tylenol with codeine and I’m kind of in love.

So anyway.  Surgery.  They’re being incredibly accommodating and I’m getting a special tour of where it will be happening and a meeting with the anesthesiologist and everything.  It’s day surgery and then I’ll go to my mom’s for a few weeks to recover.

I’m very excited and happy about this.  I post about it on facebook. One of my friends, a devout Catholic, posts that he will pray for me.

And now I’m having a dilemma.  Because I know that it is rude to tell other people to believe or what to do, but……but I really, really, really do not want to be prayed for.  Especially by a Catholic.

This makes me sound like a horrible person.  I’ve never doubted that I am, but I beg of you to please let me explain.

For an atheist, I have an awful lot of faith, just not faith in supernatural entities.  I have faith in human beings, in science, in rationality.  I have faith that my bones and tissue will be the same as the bones and tissue in other human beings, even though I cannot see them.  I have faith that the surgeon and his assistants have enough training and experience to do this procedure correctly.  I have faith that I can follow the limitations set for me after the surgery so that I do not reinjure myself.  I have faith that the painkillers and anesthesia will work.

So for me, when I hear someone say, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ when they mean that they will pray to a supernatural deity I know does not exist, what I hear is, ‘I do not have the faith that you have in science and doctors.  I think that something will go wrong, and that you can only be saved by divine intervention.’

I know, of course, that this most likely isn’t what they mean.  What they mean is that they will ask a deity that they really do believe in to intervene on my behalf, to ensure that things go smoothly.  My deist friends would say that god works through surgeons and through medicines too.  They would say that praying for me is an act of love, and that what they call god is what I know as love.

This may be true, but I’m realizing as I grow older that love and respect are not the same thing.  And I would much prefer to have both.

I believe very strongly that religions overall do more harm than good in the world.  People created the ideas of god and religion millennia ago because they lacked ways to explain the universe and the natural world.  However, we can now explain the vast majority of witnessed phenomena through science and scientific inquiry.  Last time I checked, there were no scholarly journals which affirmed that a deity exists.  (If there were, I would honestly be more than open to the idea of one.)

Religion causes wars and bombings and national and local policies that directly harm peoples health.  When abortions are outlawed, they do not stop, they just stop being safe.  The Catholic church has done an enormous amount of damage to the world by insisting that abortion and birth control are bad things.  They and other Christian groups have kicked people out of their groups for having a marginalized identity, like being gay.  I believe that religion, and especially religious fundamentalism, is a direct threat to the health and well being of this country. So when someone says, ‘I’ll pray for you’, what comes to my mind is not a smiling Jesus cradling children in his arms.  It is the centuries of hate and death and destruction that religions have wrought on people around the world.

I freely admit that I am not that well versed in world religions, and I know by far the most about the traditional Abrahamic faiths, Christianity, Judaism and Islam.  I have no idea if Buddhists and Sikhs and Hindus and Druids and all the rest have been as harmful as my research indicates other religions to be.

What I do know is that I would rather not be prayed for.  I would rather people acknowledge that my own hard work and persistence have been what pays off, not sending wishes upward to a nonexistent being.  My surgery will be paid for through government sponsored healthcare, which many religious groups are actively against.  If I lived in a state where the religious right has a stranglehold on the government, such as in Mississippi, I would be looking at living in pain for the rest of my life.  Instead, through the hard work of others who have come before me, I get a solution.  I get surgery.

And I am grateful.  I am so grateful to the lawmakers and ordinary citizens who made state healthcare possible.  I am grateful for the professors who taught my doctor how to do this procedure and for the high standards of the hospital I will go to.  I am grateful for the people who work to sanitize the operating rooms so I will not get an infection.  I am grateful I have family I can recuperate with.

I am grateful for people.  Not a deity, not a supernatural being.  Just ordinary people, working hard in their daily lives to make mine better.

I would like to acknowledge here that I am a bit of a hypocrite, saying that religion is a bad thing, because I myself identify as religious. However, and yes, this is probably even more hypocritical, I do believe that Unitarian Universalists are one of the few exceptions (there may be more – Quakers come to mind, but I don’t know, I’m not a religions expert) to the religion-is-more-harmful-than-good rule.  This is because UUism has no creed, has no fixed belief system beyond ‘be kind to the earth and each other’.  People are free to believe what they wish.  We do not impose our agenda on anyone nor cause direct harm to come to people who do not share our beliefs.

This is where UUism and many other major religions differ.  To go back to the example I gave above, the Catholic church has for decades been an instrumental force in forbidding access to safe, legal birth control in many countries.  As a result, women have more children than they want, and they are not able to provide for them properly.  They and their children may die in childbirth.  As another example, some religions do not believe in global warming.  They are so firm in their belief that this life is temporary, that we will all be happy in heaven soon enough, that they willfully ignore the real science that tells us our planet is in grave danger.  This leads to people losing their homes as sea levels increase, to animals and people dying as the weather grows more extreme, to the extinction of entire species, like polar bears, and, most probably, to the extinction of human life itself before too long.  I have not found any examples where UUism has caused direct physical harm to come to entire groups of people or other living things.

I understand that saying a few words to an invisible deity makes many people feel better.  But instead of talking to a deity, why don’t you talk to people?  Talk to lawmakers and ensure better access to healthcare for all.  Talk to your doctor and if they don’t accept Medicaid (as *many* doctors don’t) ask them why and put pressure on them to do so.  Talk to your town about fixing the broken sidewalks that make it hard for people with disabilities to get around. Talk to your bus driver about turning on the darn announcements so that blind people can know where to get off. Talk to your family about being more accepting of people of all abilities and diversities.  Talk to your friends about making social events more accessible to all.  Talk to me about what I should watch on Netflix and amazon while I recuperate from my surgery.

Just, please, don’t talk to your god, or any god, for that matter.  Not on my behalf.

 

The Racist’s Guide to the Magic Cabin Catalog

So a few years ago I bought the Little One a Fancy Toy from a Fancy Catalog and got on a few mailing lists.  One day when I was home sick I was leafing through it and realized that, hey, you know what? Some of these toys are really rather racist.  Thus this post.

This list is meant to be satire and funny.  It is meant to recognize the ridiculousness and absurdity of some of these high end toys.  It is meant to make fun of the holier-than-though attitude written into the product descriptions.  And it is meant to point out the casual yet horrible stereotypes this company promotes and produces.  Don’t get me wrong, if I had endless money I would love to give (and heck, receive) many of the toys in this catalog.  They have some really, really cool stuff.  The selection below is merely the most egregious examples of hipster-toys-gone-too-far. And also, you know, white people who see nothing wrong with the fact that it’s 2016 and they are selling play tomahawks, for crying out loud.

Full disclosure: I got this idea from this post, http://adequateman.deadspin.com/the-2015-hater-s-guide-to-the-williams-sonoma-catalog-1746862116.  And all the images in this post were taken from the Magic Cabin website at http://www.magiccabin.com.

Pirate Ship and Pirates

piratespirates2

Ahoy there!  If you’re raising children of color and want them to have positive role models in organic wooden dolls, look no further than these pirate dolls, which feature one of the few play figures of color in the entire catalog in the form of a swashbuckling (what the feck does that even mean) sailor who is out for blood and treasure.  While you’re at it, throw in the only disabled doll this company offers in the form of a captain with a peg leg.  Two stereotypes for the price of six!

(image of a wooden pirate ship and 6 wooden/cloth pirates, one of whom is  person of color, in colorful felt clothes.)

Price: $32.98 – $259

Eco Bricks

woodenlegospirate-shippirates

 

In case it is not apparent from the description and photos: these are legos (trademarked).  They are fancy, eco-friendly cherry wood legos, to be sure, but when it comes down to it……they are legos.  Some time ago, some brilliant Danish person came up with the great idea to make tiny, attachable bricks that adults and children love.  Today, you can get legos in every shape, size, and color imaginable.  If you have a fandom, they have a lego set for it.  The only problem with legos, however, is that they are – gasp! – plastic.  How you could even consider letting Mildred and Tobias play with something plastic is beyond me.  Sure, the original legos are colorful and these are all the same pale blonde wood which matches the children’s hair, but the kids can color and paint these so that you can be reminded of how terrible their fine motor skills were for years to come!  And if you isolate them enough so that they do not know media exists, you can also hold off on the begging for the Star Wars sets or the Harry Potter sets or the Women in Science sets (which is pretty cool.)

Real question here: do the eco-friendly cherry wood non-legos hurt when you step on them with bare feet?  If so, maybe they are worth the cost.

(image of pale blond bricks that look exactly like legos, but wooden.)

Price: 19.98-64.98

Deluxe Wool Felt

felt

Is it made of wool, or is it made of diamond unicorn droppings?  I don’t know.  But at eight dollars a piece, or less when you buy it in sets, I’m betting there’s something special about it, besides the fact that it is 100% wool and imported from Europe.  Sure, you could get the same thing on amazon for next to nothing, or get (gasp!) synthetic felt at the craft store for 30 cents a piece, but this is real wool.  From real sheep, not plastic sheep.  Can you imagine giving your children anything else to cover in glitter and tear into pieces?  I certainly can’t.

(image of felt in a variety of colors.)

Price: from $7.98 for an individual piece of 18 inch felt, to much more for packets of it.

Food Truck Play Set

food-truck

Although ultimately losing to the above Eco Bricks, the wooden Food Truck Play Set was a runner-up for the winner of the Most Hipster Toy Ever contest this year.  It’s not enough for children to just use ordinary blocks or playgrounds to pretend to be today’s consumers of street food, no, they must also have this Food Truck set.  Despite the fact that the majority of food trucks sell ethnic cuisine from around the world, this food truck set reinforces the idea that Americans should only eat ice cream and pizza* by providing tiny wooden examples of each.  Don’t forget your ethnically-ambiguous servers to go with them.

*seriously I’ve seen a ton of food trucks, they are wicked popular in my area, yet they don’t ever have a pizza food truck because good pizzas require huge ovens.  Pizza is just not part of food truck culture, period.

(image of 4 dolls, two with light hair, two with dark hair maybe meant to be Hispanic, posed around a blue wooden food truck with wooden ice cream and wooden pizza.)

Price: $59.98

Frontier Fun Dress-Up Sets

indianset

Are you tired of not being able to buy high-quality culturally offensive toys for children?  Well, look no further than Magic Cabin, which has decided to bring back the 1950’s with ‘frontier accessories’ made in Germany, where at least some people are following in their ancestors footsteps with the demonization of certain groups.  Let your child pretend to scalp their friends with the tomahawk or the knife!  Conveniently ignore the fact that feather headdresses are part of sacred cultural and spiritual rites to certain groups of Native Americans – laugh as your lily-white child dresses up and makes ‘war whoops’.  Don’t forget the bow and arrows to shoot the ‘bad guys’ with.  Not included are blankets infected with smallpox or any evidence of the genocide white people committed against Native Americans.  Also not included is black oil that your children can smother their brown friends with as they explain that an oil pipeline is more important than Native graves and Native lives.

(image of a blue wooden knife/sheath, a wooden bow and arrows set, a tomahawk, a feathered necklace and a feathered headdress.)

Price: $24.98 – $39.98

Wee Wild Westerners/ Lil’ Log Cabin

weewesters

log-cabin

Magic Cabin would like you to know that it is totally okay to mix up separate nations and cultures and treat them as one indistinguishable group, so long as they all wear feathers as part of their costumes and you call them Native American Braves, instead of Indian Brave.  They’d also like you to teach your children that white people was the only acceptable color of pioneers, and that they made cute furniture our of natural Baltic birch and solid pine.  Magic cabin boasts that the accompanying ‘Lil’ log cabin’ will last for generations, ensuring that a hundred years from now the same tired stereotypes can educate and inform your descendants.

(Image of a ‘Native American’ family in some odd mash up of clothing and feather headdresses as well as a white family in traditional western garb, and a wooden cabin with tiny white people and tiny wood furniture inside.)

Price: $12.98- $149 (for all the dolls) up to $359 (for dolls, cabin, and furniture.)

 

How do you raise a white child to not be racist?  How do you raise a child of color with their self-esteem intact?  How do you explain to children of indigenous people why it is okay for other kids to take the sacred objects of their culture as toys?  I have no answers, only more questions.

Why is it that there are baby dolls of color and some dollhouse dolls of color in this catalog, yet many of the playthings have to do with magical beings such as elves, fairies, and gnomes, and none of them – none of them! – have darker skin?  Why do they have diverse models and not diverse dolls?  Why in the world is their doll nativity set all white, including the three kings?  For gracious sakes, you have a black child model playing with them!

In order to raise consciousness, in order to raise community, in order to raise the world up to the level on which we are all recognized as equal human beings, we need to start small.  With something as small as a doll or a playset.  We need to acknowledge racism when we see it, and call it out, and say: this isn’t right.